It is my firm belief that there are two kinds of people: cookie fairies and cookie monsters. In the magic kingdom of sugar and spice, we need each other, almost in a symbiotic way. Monsters know exactly who to call in a cookie emergency. And fairies, who have secret antennae, get regular reports on which monsters are in need of a fix. Of course, fairies enjoy an occasional cookie (or three) with tea, but the real love lies with the distribution, or spreading cookie dust far and wide.

Chances are that you instinctively know which team is yours. But if for some reason, you are on the fence or exploring new options, I recently got word from Fairy HQ that crews are working around the clock and management could use some extra hands, even just for this season. At the end of the longest, most topsy-turvy year ever, the need for two bites of sweet inspiration (and random acts of kindness) is greater than ever.

No previous experience is necessary and, frankly, no special equipment is, either. In the spirit of springing right into action, I’m sharing the details for biscotti and gingerbread cutouts, two homey, tried-and-true favorites that I make year after year.

Gingerbread cutouts

The simple homespun elegance of gingerbread cutout cookies.

The biscotti recipe has been with me since the late ’90s when I was in cooking school, and it’s one that I have edited and passed on to friends, who to this day still make (and share) every December.

Renowned pastry chef Nick Malgieri is the original source of the gingerbread dough, which over the years, feels like an old friend who always knows what to say. In fact, in a video call last weekend with my 9-year-old pal Loren, I walked him through the steps of making this beginner-friendly dough. He graduated with honors, and a no finer cookie fairy there will be.

Gingerbread cookie dough

Gingerbread cookie dough getting a workout; the dough scraps easily press together and can be re-rolled.

 

GINGERBREAD CUT-OUT COOKIES

Adapted from “Cookies Unlimited” by Nick Malgieri.

This dough is very forgiving and can be made in a stand mixer, food processor or with a hand-held electric beater. Five cups of flour is a hefty amount, so make sure to add gradually (and on slow speed) to minimize a flour dust storm. Ingredient amounts easily can be halved for a smaller batch. The dough can be made in advance and keeps well in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for a few months. Thaw in the refrigerator.

Makes 24 to 48 cookies, depending on the size of the cutters.


Ingredients:

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • Sprinkles or colored sugar, for decorating

Directions:

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, spices, salt and baking soda.

Beat the butter and brown sugar until it looks creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add half of the beaten eggs, mixing until incorporated and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Add about half of the flour mixture on low speed (or using pulse function) until the flour has mostly disappeared. Add the molasses, mixing until incorporated, stopping as needed to scrape sides of bowl. Add the remaining flour mixture, mixing until no longer visible.

Dump the dough onto your work surface, and with your hands mold it into one cohesive lump. Cut into four equal pieces. Wrap each hunk in plastic and press into a disc about 1/2-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour.

When ready to bake, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Unwrap one dough hunk and keep the rest chilled until ready to use.

Dust your work surface with flour and place dough on top. With a rolling pin, gently pound the dough, rotating it about 45 degrees three or four times.

From the center, roll the dough in all four directions — north, south, east west — making a quarter-turn after every few strokes. You want the dough to be about 1/4-inch thick.

Press cookie cutters into the dough until there is no room left. You may need a paring knife to remove dough scraps. With a flat-edge cookie spatula, lift the cookies, one by one, and transfer to prepared pans, spacing about 1 inch apart.

Press together dough scraps and reroll, repeating the process. Decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar.

Bake the cookies until they become dull and dry looking and feel slightly firm when pressed, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on size. If you overbake, the cookies will be very dry. Let cookies cool on a rack.

Store in a tin or plastic container lined with parchment. Keeps for a few weeks.

CRANBERRY-PISTACHIO BISCOTTI

Excerpted from “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations” by Kim O’Donnel.

Makes about 40 pieces.

Like the gingerbread cookies, the biscotti dough is not uptight and gives you permission to use a stand mixer, food processor or a hand-held electric beater. In fact, I have stirred this dough by hand with a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. I love the combination of cranberries and pistachios but feel free to change up the fruit and nuts as you see fit.


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened slightly and cut into 6 pieces
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped roughly
  • 3/4 cup unsalted pistachios, chopped

Directions:

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Beat the sugar and butter until lightened in color and malleable, 2 to 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, fork-whisk the eggs and measure out 1 tablespoon, reserving for the egg wash. Add the beaten-egg majority to the butter mixture, plus the vanilla, and mix until well blended and even a little frothy.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until no longer visible. Add the dried cranberries and pistachios and mix on low speed until evenly distributed. Alternatively, stir by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Have two pieces of parchment paper at the ready, dusted lightly with flour.

Dump the dough, which will be stiff and sticky, onto one of the parchment sheets. Cut the dough in half. Shape each dough half into a flattened rectangular raft, about 12 inches long and 2 to 4 inches wide, on each parchment sheet. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.

Transfer each dough rectangle (and underlying parchment) to a sheet pan. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the top with some of the leftover beaten egg.

Bake until half-done, about 25 minutes. Cut each dough rectangle on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Turn the slices on their side and spread evenly on the sheet pan. Return the cookies to the oven for an additional 15 minutes.

Let the biscotti cool completely on a rack. Stored in an airtight container, the biscotti will keep for a few weeks.¶

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